The adage "everything old is new again" applies at Parker's in White Marsh. After 60 years as the Williamsburg Inn, the restaurant has evolved under a new owner and a new vision.
I remember going there in its earlier days with grandparents. The staid, Colonial-style building served familiar American food that previous generations would have recognized.
Ronald W. Parker and his partner, Mohan Thapa, took over the property in 2012 and have transformed the restaurant with new bars, banquet rooms and other improvements. But an old-fashioned aura still clings to the place. That's not a bad thing.
We were directed to a back dining room, which took us through one of the bars. Our destination was rustic and quaint, with wooden beams adorning the ceiling and walls, and curtain swags that hark back to another time.
The stone fireplace would have been inviting if lit, but on our visit it was the source of a cold draft. Still, the tables were carefully set with fresh red cloths and white linen napkins, and our waitress was experienced and professional.
Drinks are predictable: Woodbridge wines; an orange crush and other cocktails; and bottled beers such as Yuengling and Coors Light. There are a few nods to the present, including Frederick-based Flying Dog Brewery's Raging Bitch IPA.
We were pleased with our starters. The mini crab fluffs — small crab cakes wrapped in dough and fried — got a modern update with duck fat and were served with a piquant horseradish mustard.
The barbecue bacon-wrapped scallops had us swooning. The fat, sweet mollusks and salty bacon were boosted with a tangy wasabi ranch sauce.
Chef Dallas Wells has been in the kitchen for a year and a half and is adding some updated twists to standard dishes. He also offers daily specials; recently, they included bacon-wrapped asparagus, salmon nachos, and steak and shrimp Alfredo.
But sometimes Wells leaves well enough alone.
The last time I was visited the Williamsburg Inn, about eight years ago, I had a popular Eastern Shore dish that remains on the menu — chicken Chesapeake. Wells' preparation is a delicious throwback. The plump grilled chicken breast was tender, juicy and a great supporting base for the delectable crab imperial bound with just enough mayonnaise.
The kitchen trusts you to pick your side dishes. A crisp house salad and coleslaw paired well with the rich seafood dish. The iceberg combo with bacon crumbles, chopped egg, grated cheese and croutons was another step back in time — solidly predictable. The irresistible slaw was crunchy, with freshly chopped cabbage and carrots in a light vinegar dressing.
Parker, who rechristened the restaurant in 2014 to reflect his own name, has brought in family members to help in various positions. His daughter, Julie Parker O'Brien, is the general manager, and his granddaughter, Victoria O'Brien, a high-school senior, serves as a waitress and kitchen expediter when her schedule allows.
Even Parker's mother, Angie, has input on the various pasta dishes on the menu. Her expertise showed in our fabulous seafood fra diavolo, served with an average Caesar salad. The al dente noodles were punctuated with a generous amount of shrimp, scallops and crabmeat in a spicy red sauce. The portion is large enough to share.
We also couldn't resist ordering Parker's "famous" prime rib. The 12-ounce hunk of meat was sublime in a flavorful au jus. We picked homey mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach to support the dish. Both were agreeable additions.
You don't have to eat a full-course meal at Parker's, though. The menu also includes flatbreads, sandwiches and burgers.
For now, I wouldn't bother with dessert. They're not made in house, our waitress said. Our pumpkin pie in a crimped crust was bland and better left off our waistlines. Parker said desserts will soon be prepared on the premises.
During his tenure, the restaurateur has added a party tent in season, a pavilion and a landscaped courtyard for weddings and other occasions. He runs the motel next door to accommodate overnight guests.
His vision for the restaurant, which includes weekend live music, revives a gathering spot that lost customers when travelers opted for Interstate 95 instead of U.S. 40.
But Parker has kept enough of the old vibe to create nostalgia for the past in a forward-thinking establishment.